The Spanish Election: Crisis issues face voters

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UNTIL earlier this year, when general elections were expected to be in October as scheduled, spreading cases of corruption involving Felipe Gonzalez's ruling Socialist Party looked like being the main electoral issue. That, however, was before the country slipped out of the economic growth cycle for the first time under Socialist rule.

Now, La Crisis - the economic crisis of 3.3 million unemployed (21.7 per cent of the workforce), untamed inflation, potential negative growth, high interest rates, and a peseta worth 20 per cent less than eight months ago - has taken centre stage.

Spain's place in Europe and assorted regional issues, notably the Basques' and Catalans' moves towards greater autonomy, are crucial on the national level for two reasons: they raise the question of the future make-up (or potential break-up?) of Spain in a fast-changing Europe; and the Basque and Catalan congressional seats can tip the balance in a hung parliament.

Economy: Both main parties make an attack on unemployment their top priority. Both say they will seek a 'social pact' with employers and unions, aimed at moderating salary claims to beat the recession.

Corruption: Reports of corruption within the Socialists - and to a lesser-known extent the Popular Party - threaten to turn Spain into a microcosm of what Italy is going through. Spaniards have become frustrated with the Socialist system of enchufismo ('being plugged in'), or jobs for the boys.

Europe: Mr Gonzalez is as pro-European as they come. For campaign purposes, the PP leader, Jose Maria Aznar, has kept a degree of ambiguity. But both say they want full convergence, including monetary union.

The regions: The Basques this week joined the Catalonians in demanding their own Central Bank, independent of the Bank of Spain. The Catalonians want to collect and administer some of the region's taxes, something the Basques already do.